Students deserve UT’s support in a “Post-Roe” Texas

Editor’s Note: This editorial first appeared as part of the July 19 flipbook. 

In the three and a half weeks since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision of Dobbs V. Jackson, which overturned Roe v. Wade and ended constitutional protections for abortion, we have heard nothing from UT. To say that we’re unsurprised would be an understatement; it’s exactly what we expected from University administration. Still, UT’s silence is disappointing. 

Let’s be clear. Abortion is healthcare. While there are a multitude of reasons why someone might seek an abortion, any reason is valid. Moreover, criminalizing abortions does not stop them from happening or even lower their rate of occurance. Rather, they become unsafe and  contribute to pregnancy-related health complications and deaths. This issue is one that should concern everyone, not just politicians and activists. 

With reproductive and privacy rights on the line, the University cannot remain silent. For the students who have lost a fundamental right to make choices about their own bodies and for the students who are terrified of what the future may hold, UT must denounce efforts to restrict abortions and take steps to support the Longhorn community. 

After inquiring about the University’s response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, we received this statement from university spokesperson Shilpa Bakre. 

“University Health Services offers a variety of reproductive healthcare services for students such as annual wellness exams and education, pregnancy testing and information on contraceptives and pregnancy prevention. UHS does not dispense abortive medications, provide abortion services or obstetrical/prenatal services,” said Bakre in an email. 

Students deserve more than a shallow, two-sentence summary of information that can be found on UHS’ website. 

“We are unable to provide an interview on this editorial topic,” said Bakre in an email. “We have nothing more to provide beyond the above.” 

While UT says it is “unable,” perhaps a better word would be “unwilling.” Other public university leaders, such as University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman and University of California President Michael Drake, have chosen to speak out against the Court’s decision. 

As an institution in a deeply conservative state, UT has the power to stand in opposition to the agenda of Texas lawmakers, and it has before. When Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick threatened to remove tenure for professors in Texas’ public universities because he was angered by the teaching of critical race theory, UT President Jay Hartzell released a statement defending tenure. Yet, as Texans are denied access to essential reproductive healthcare, UT administration remains complicit in its silence.

Nikita Kakkad, founder of UT’s chapter of Easy Contraception 4 Every Campus, explained the significance of overturning Roe v. Wade and the importance of speaking out against the SCOTUS decision. 

“I think everyone should care about this decision. Frankly, this is an issue that affects everyone that has a uterus, which is half of the people in this country. Even if you’re someone that’s not directly affected by this issue, someone you care about is or even beyond that, people are affected by this,” said Kakkad. “The fact that people are not able to access the health care they need, the fact that doctors are scared to provide health care to women who need abortions (because of health complications), the fact that a 10-year-old (from Ohio) had to travel out of state and (get) an abortion — those are injustices.” 

Once Texas’ trigger law, HB 1280, goes into effect, abortion during any stage of pregnancy will be criminalized as a second-degree or first-degree felony offense, without exception for rape or incest. The only exception will be if an abortion prevents “death or a substantial impairment of a major bodily function.” Whitney Arey, a postdoctoral fellow with the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, discussed the risks of restricting abortions to medical emergencies. 

Physicians and institutions are going to have diverse interpretations of the very narrow exemptions allowed under abortion bans, and this will compromise pregnant people’s ability to get the evidence-based health care and the support from their healthcare provider that they need,” said Arey in an email. “Patients without the resources to travel to other states for abortion care will be forced to continue their pregnancy until delivery or until they are ‘sick enough’ to receive care under the narrow exemptions allowed by Texas’ laws.” 

We’ve already begun to see the consequences of abortion restrictions on medical care in Texas, as doctors are being forced to consider legal liability and judge whether a pregnancy complication is dire enough to justify a medical emergency. 

While abortion access is often framed as a women’s issue, we want to acknowledge that it directly impacts anyone who can get pregnant, including transgender, intersex and nonbinary individuals. In addition, communities that have historically faced barriers to healthcare access will face greater repercussions from abortion bans. 

“I think we’re going to see many people, especially historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups, (as well as) students who are undocumented (or) low income, (who) will be disproportionately hurt by this decision,” said Sameeha Rizvi, UT Senate of College Councils vice president. 

University leadership’s continued silence in the face of such harmful measures is disappointing and irresponsible. A public statement from administration educating students about their current rights and taking a stance against abortion restrictions would be a good start, but it cannot end there. 

UT student leaders and activists have released a statement demanding greater support and resources from administration, and UT should listen. These demands include expanding and improving on-campus sexual education, making reproductive healthcare resources more accessible and abolishing mandatory attendance policies. 

“The biggest thing for college students losing access to abortions (is that they are) a very vulnerable group (when it) comes to pregnancies and access to abortions. It’s going to be quite difficult if a student is pregnant and they are forced to carry the pregnancy to term. I mean, (that student) could suffer academic, financial (and) mental health strains,“ said Rizvi, a co-author of the statement. “UT can often serve as a helpful resource for a lot of these students — which is why I think it’s really important that colleges should evaluate and work to improve the sexual healthcare resources they offer on campus, including new access to contraceptives, pregnancy tests and STI testing and treatment.”  

We say, “What starts here changes the world,” but how can we proudly stand behind that motto when UT leadership remains callously silent as reproductive protections are revoked? For those of us facing the consequences of a “post-Roe” world, we call on UT to defend and protect the rights of its students. 

This editorial was written by associate editor Alyssa Ramos and editor-in-chief Megan Tran.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story stated Shilpa Bakre’s title as executive director of communications and marketing for the Cockrell School of Engineering. While this is one of her titles, the story has been changed to clarify and reflect Bakre’s dual role as university spokesperson. The Daily Texan regrets the error.